What is Havdalah?
Havdalah is the Jewish ceremony performed at the end of the Shabbat (Sabbath) that separates the holy Sabbath day from the mundane week to follow. The name “Havdalah” means “differentiation” or “distinction” (sometimes wrongly translated as “separation”). “Havdalah” is also the name commonly given to the special prayer recited for the Havdalah ceremony.
When to perform Havdalah
In Judaism, the Sabbath ends and the new week begins at nightfall on Saturday. Havdalah may be recited as soon as three stars are visible in the night sky. Sometimes the Havdalah is purposely delayed, in order to prolong Shabbat. If for any reason the Havdalah ceremony cannot be performed on Saturday night, it may be observed as late as Tuesday evening.
Elements of the Havdalah Ceremony
Prayer – A blessing is said for the new week.
Wine – Kosher wine (or grape juice) is drunk as a toast to the new week and the departed Sabbath.
Candle – A special braided, multi-wick Havdalah candle is lit and a prayer is recited over it.
Spices – Spices are handed around so that everyone can smell the fragrance. In the Sephardi community, branches of aromatic plants are used for this purpose. Frequently, the spices are kept in a highly decorated Havdalah spice container. The spices are omitted if the Sabbath has fallen on Yom Kippur.
Different communities follow slightly different rituals, including prayers in Yiddish. The following is an account of fairly common customs. After the candle is lit and the wine cup is filled, an introductory blessing based on the psalms is recited, followed by the blessing on the wine. The spices are distributed and smelled, and a blessing is said on the spices. Then those who are gathered regard the candles and say the blessing over the candles. Next, the special Havdalah Blessing is recited:
Blessed art thou o Lord, our God King of the universe, who distinguishes sacred from profane, light from darkness, Israel from the nations, the seventh day from the six working days. Blessed art thou o Lord, our God King of the universe, who distinguishes sacred from profane.
Baruch Atah Adonay Eloheinu Melech Haolam, hamavdil beyn kodesh le’hol, beyn ohr le’hoshech, beyn yisrael la’amim, beyn yom hashevi’i lesheshet yemei hama’aseh. Baruch atah adonay eloheinu melech haolam, hamavdil beyn kodesh le’hol.
Participants drink most of the wine following the Havdalah prayer. They then extinguish the candle by holding it over a plate and pouring the wine over it. Some also dip their finders in the wine. At this point everyone may say “Shavua Tov” – have a good week. Some also recite an anthology of blessings. The Havdalah ceremony may be followed by a special feast, singing and dancing.